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Pre-Election Denial in Donation Case Shown as False in Report

By Alan C. Miller and
Glenn F. Bunting
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

White House officials are fearing embarrassing disclosures regarding Yogesh K. Gandhi, a California entrepreneur who had donated a whopping $325,000 to attend a fund-raising dinner at which he gave President Clinton a bust of the legendary Mahatma Gandhi in an unusual presentation with foreign visitors.

White House and Democratic officials denied any connection between the enormous donation and the presidential ceremony. But newly obtained documents and interviews indicate that those statements were false and that key officials knew before the Nov. 5 election that Gandhi had offered the money directly in exchange for arranging the presentation.

The records reveal for the first time how administration and party officials gave misleading accounts that helped deflect criticism of Clinton within days of the election. The documents shed new light on a debate within the White House and the Democratic National Committee over whether to return Gandhi's donation following news accounts that he had testified in court that he had no U.S. assets and owed California $10,000 in back taxes.

The DNC cut a refund check for $325,000 to Gandhi on Oct. 25, 1996. But it did not give back his contribution until Nov. 6 - the day after Clinton was re-elected.

Only two weeks before the election, then-White House special counsel Mark D. Fabiani said in an interview that the Gandhi award and the $325,000 donation were not connected. "I don't think there's any relationship at all that we've seen," he said.

At the same time, a Democratic Party spokeswoman said Gandhi unexpectedly brought the life-sized bust to a May 13, 1996, fund-raiser and arranged the ceremony with Clinton on the spot.

"He talked to no one about the presentation in advance," the DNC's Amy Weiss Tobe told The Times on Oct. 24, 1996. "The first the DNC knew of him wanting to present this to the president was at the dinner."

In fact, DNC fund-raisers John Huang and Yah Lin "Charlie" Trie knew days in advance Gandhi was coming to Washington to orchestrate the award presentation.